City Beat

Sacramento officials receptive to Seattle homeless camp model

A delegation of Sacramento Council members, community leaders and city officials visits a city-sanctioned living area for homeless residents in Seattle. Friday, Feb. 28, 2016.
A delegation of Sacramento Council members, community leaders and city officials visits a city-sanctioned living area for homeless residents in Seattle. Friday, Feb. 28, 2016. The Sacramento Bee

Most of the Sacramento City Council members who toured permitted homeless camps here Friday said they support exploring the idea back home.

Councilmen Jay Schenirer, Eric Guerra and Jeff Harris expressed various levels of support for allowing dozens of homeless campers to live in a contained facility connected with social service and affordable housing providers. Two staffers with Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office took the tours, and a spokesman for the mayor said Johnson “has been supportive in the past and he’s open to exploring it again.”

“I think it’s something that we seriously need to look at,” Schenirer said. “Given the right infrastructure and support, it might be something we want to do.”

Schenirer said a City Council subcommittee on homelessness that he chairs will begin discussing the model. He said he’d like to have a series of public meetings – including a full City Council hearing – on the Seattle trip before a formal proposal is considered by the council.

The council subcommittee is scheduled to conduct its first meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers. It is open to the public.

“There could be some efficacy here for a fairly small segment of our homeless population in Sacramento,” Harris said. “This might be a tool we could use to socialize, stabilize and integrate some people.”

The Seattle camps are designed to transition homeless people into housing, although it’s unclear how effective they’ve been so far. Sacramento has focused its efforts on improving the stock of permanent housing with social service support, but homeless rights activists regularly complain about a lack of temporary or transitional housing in the city.

Councilman Steve Hansen – whose central city district is among the most impacted by the homeless population – said there isn’t enough evidence that sanctioned tent cities help ease the issue of homelessness.

“It may help some people sometimes, but it’s not clear it produces results,” he said during a tour of one of the Seattle camps. “There’s an argument that something is better than nothing, but if it doesn’t produce results, it’s not really something.”

Seattle city leaders last year approved the creation of three tent cities on public or private land. Two opened late last year and a third is being built. Roughly 85 homeless men, women and children live in the two camps that are operational; the third could house as many as 50 more people soon after it opens.

Sacramento attorney Mark Merin and Sister Libby Fernandez of homeless service provider Loaves and Fishes said they have raised enough money to operate “several” sanctioned homeless camps in Sacramento. They said they have begun identifying sites and would like to find four places throughout the city where the camp could rotate every three months.

Guerra said tent cities in Sacramento could help place less vulnerable homeless people into housing, freeing up space in the service system for individuals facing greater challenges.

“I definitely think it hits a population that is easier to serve,” he said. “If it helps us alleviate some pressure (on the overall system), then something like this could help us tackle the population.”

Look for a longer report on the Seattle tent city model in Sunday’s print edition of The Sacramento Bee.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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